I love answering difficult questions in the blog. This one, about inbound marketing, is a great one.
I was reading an article by Tim Ash, "The Unfortunate Reality Of Most Content Marketing Programs." It's a great article, so click the link to check it out. Consider following Tim, too, as he has very insightful tweets. This particular article had to do with looking at what we, as inbound marketers, have been doing recently and making sure we’re actually focused on the right activities to produce the right outcomes.
After I read it, I started thinking about our own experiences with clients' inbound marketing engagements. So, I've compiled a couple of key areas where I believe the thinking needs to be applied differently than it has been in the past.
Here we go.
Falling Short Of Expectations
This is one of the major challenges. It's actually not even the "falling short" part, but rather the fact that expectations even exist. We do our best to predict the performance of our programs. This mathematical exercise includes considering the client’s past performance, understanding the contribution of each of the inbound tactics we plan to implement and taking into account the compounding factor we’ve seen in other clients. Did you catch anything interesting in that set of inputs? There are NO actual inbound data points for the specific client at all. How could there be, as we haven’t started working with them yet?
So, without any actual client-specific inbound data, we’ve projected performance, and the client is ready to hold our feet to the fire. Actually, we’re ready to hold our own feet to the fire. It’s a flawed effort. We’re going to miss.
But, the only expectation that should realistically be applied is that we’re about to build this business's first Marketing Machine. Their first inbound program is going to deliver a predictable, scalable and repeatable flow of people contacting this company for the first time in its entire history.
WOW! No cold calling, no direct mail, no advertising, no PPC, no trade shows – just people looking for the products and services that this business provides, finding the business, visiting the business on the Web and then identifying themselves to this business as interested prospects. This is nothing short of remarkable.
What’s Wrong With Our Websites?
If you look at a lot of websites, you’re going to see a lot of things that are wrong, including the way they were built, designed, architected, written, etc. The facts are undisputed. How we build websites today is dramatically different from the way we did it 12 months ago. The influence of mobile, the way people interact with sites today, the way content is used – these have all contributed to a major overhaul in the way we do website work.
But, there is another element that's often overlooked, and that is the visitor. When it comes to this person visiting your site, you need to make sure that each page of your site is designed with a single mission in mind: to provide this visitor, this human being, with a remarkably educational and interactive experience. This is how we turn anonymous visitors into leads for our businesses.
Today, most of the sites that are being delivered are missing this “marketing” overlay. The stories that the pages tell are incomplete or nonexistent. Many of the sites I see still spill over with features, benefits, screen shots, pictures of trucks or buildings, product glamour shots or, worse, pictures of the employees or owners.
Your visitors don’t care about that. They care about one thing: How are you going to help them with their problem? With each page, you must understand the question the visitor hopes to have answered and know what tool you're going to use to continue the conversation with this new, potentially lucrative prospect.
Focusing On The Wrong End Of The Funnel
Far too often, our clients are inpatient. They want “real” leads today, people who want to buy right now. All other leads are bad. They think that the only good leads are those who are immediately ready to spend money with you. This is extremely shortsighted and has potentially catastrophic implications in terms of creating a healthy inbound program.
Instead of this approach, you need to consider all phases of the funnel: top, middle and bottom. A healthy funnel has more leads at the top than at the bottom. That is the nature of the funnel metaphor. Our research shows that the following ratios typically play out: If you have 100 leads across all stages of the funnel each month, 10% are bottom-of-the-funnel leads, 20% are middle-of-the-funnel leads, and the rest are top-of-the-funnel leads. So, you'd have 70 at the top, 20 in the middle and 10 at the bottom.
While there are tactics we deploy specifically to manipulate the funnel and push more bottom-of-the-funnel leads, our guidance involves working each of the phases equally in order to create a healthy funnel. Then, you're able to deploy lead-nurturing tactics that help move leads down into the sales opportunity category.
Understanding Your Visitors
To truly get inbound, you have to understand the buyer journey. And even more than understanding it, you have to know it intimately. Once you do, you realize that you have no control over when prospects buy. In most cases, prospects themselves are unable to control when exactly they feel ready to buy. There are outside influences impacting almost every buying decision.
This works in the favor of inbound because you never presume to know when the prospect is ready. Instead, you continue to educate, nurture, advise, counsel and coach. In some cases, the longer sales cycles actually help you establish stronger, more trusting relationships with your prospects. Understanding, planning for and creating content that strategically supports the prospect’s journey is one of the basic tenets of marketing strategy and inbound planning.
There are many theories about why inbound works. Some believe it’s quantity over quality. Some think there’s some synchronicity between tactics. I believe inbound achieves its promise when every single tactic in the program is perfectly aligned. When they’re all working together to deliver this amplification effect, it magnifies the power of any single tactic and pushes the program into high gear.
This isn’t going to be delivered within the first few months of the program. It’s probably not going to be delivered within the first year. But, there's a tipping point in every successful engagement. This happens when the Marketing Machine is running so smoothly that visitors simply continue to rise month over month, and the conversion strategy produces enough leads to fill top-, middle- and bottom-of-the-funnel goals. This should be the aim of every inbound marketing agency and every person practicing inbound for an organization.
Start Today Tip – Nothing about inbound is easy. It requires a complex collection of tactics that are tightly integrated and constantly managed to produce dramatic results. The only way to achieve the high level of program performance discussed in the article is to practice, practice, practice. You’re going to make mistakes. Use the data to fail quickly and make adjustments on the fly. If you’re looking for a quicker route, consider working with an inbound marketing agency partner that has an established track record of delivering results at the level discussed above.
For a few more of the secrets required to deliver remarkable results, download the e-book highlighted below.
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